Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) yesterday sent a letter to Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, principal deputy director for Indian Health Services (IHS), citing a number of concerns about the pace and scope of the Trump administration’s response to the spread of coronavirus in Indian Country and at urban Indian health centers. Grijalva’s letter, available at http://bit.ly/2IWbxxp, asks for documentation of the availability of intensive care unit beds, ventilators and other response equipment at Indian Health Services facilities and urban Indian health centers nationwide, based on concerns from a recent conference call between Indian Health Services officials and congressional staff that available equipment may not respond adequately to the public health risk.
Among other concerns, Grijalva questions the administration’s failure to send congressionally approved health care funding to tribes. Tribal leaders have publicly said in recent days that even though the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 made $40 million available to tribes to meet health needs, they have not been given clear guidance on how to access the money, and much of it sits in the federal government’s hands weeks after the president signed the bill into law — despite the fact that state governments have had no trouble accessing appropriated funds immediately.
Grijalva presses for more information on how presumptive and positive COVID-19 cases will be housed, quarantined and transported to adequate medical facilities. Because of a severe housing shortage in Indian Country, multi-generational housing may be the norm for many tribes. Grijalva asks in his letter for more information on how Indian Health Services intends to guarantee safe quarantine areas for affected populations.
According to Indian Health Services data, the agency serves more than 2.5 million Americans. Indian Health Services is the sole federal health care agency operating in Indian Country. A recently released survey conducted by the National Indian Health Board found that 87 percent of tribal respondents have not received personal protective equipment (PPE) from the federal government, and 90 percent of respondents have not received personal protective equipment from state governments.
“Either this administration makes necessary funding and health care resources available where they’re needed as quickly as possible, or more Americans are going to get sick and die,” Grijalva said today. “Our entire population — regardless of income or location — needs a sufficient federal response to this crisis. Ignoring longstanding policy failures in Indian Country is not an option, and the longer the Trump administration continues to hold federal funding hostage, the higher the cost will be in human lives.”
During last week’s conference call, Indian Health Services officials told congressional staff that the agency has only 10 ventilators and only six Intensive Care Unit beds available nationwide. There are still no clear federal plans for making more equipment available to Indian Health Services hospitals and health care centers and no clear plan to release already approved federal funding.